A day in…Carmel, CA

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small beach city on the Monterey Peninsula, two hours south of San Francisco. Historically a Bohemian artists village, Carmel-by-the-Sea has been home to many famous people such as Doris Day, John Madden, Ansel Adams, and John Steinbeck. Clint Eastwood was not only a resident, he was elected Mayor of Carmel. The picturesque city of less than 4,000 residents features unique homes including many cottages with minute detailing valued in the millions because of the location. One house which we viewed was decorated with heart-shaped cut-outs decorating the picket fence, the shingles, and gracefully furbishing the interior decorative trim. The luscious gardens rolled into each other in everflowing bloom.

Timing: We happened to visit Carmel during the Concours d’Elegance (“Competition of Elegance”), an annual event in which illustrious cars are displayed and judged.  The event provided an interesting car (and people) watching all around town. My brother, a gearhead, was definitely jealous, I could tell the color of a car but I knew nothing about make or model. The Concours is normally the second week in August. 

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for the Santa Cruz Mountains, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Mission District.

Addresses: Please note that much of Carmel is a grid system, so most businesses use cross streets instead of a number. 

When I explore a new neighborhood I enjoy exercise, learning about the local culture, and then taking time to replenish and often indulge in some food and drink. Here is how to spend one day in the picturesque Carmel, California:

Morning:

Start your morning at the Carmel Mission Basilica. This is the final resting place of St.Junípero Serra, who founded the first 9 of the 21 Spanish missions in California. You won’t need more than an hour to enjoy this peaceful and well kept historic site. The mission boasts housing the first library of California which started with only 30 volumes in 1778. Those first books and accompanying Franciscan sherpa’s came north from Mexico City’s San Fernando Apostolic College. Many of the original books are far older than the mission itself, having been printed in Spain, probably in the early 18th century and travelled to Mexico and then on to the mission in what was then called “Alta California”. 

After learning about California’s rich mission history of “El Camino Real” (English: “The Royal Road”), enjoy brunch at the nearby Mission Ranch Restaurant. Despite the name the farm is unaffiliated with the mission itself. The restored farmhouse serves as a restaurant and inn. Clint Eastwood owns the 22 acre estate that has views of Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains. On Sunday’s Mission Ranch offers a jazz brunch. Make sure to take a stroll on the property to see the sheep grazing. If the weather permits, try to sit outside. 

The view of Carmel Riverstate Beach.

Burn off your brunch with a walk along the coastal trail between Carmel River State Beach and Carmel Beach. This should be less than two miles, but feel free to turn back at any point. This is also a great car ride. This seaside walk passes many historic houses, don’t miss any of the beautiful detailing on the houses, for modern lovers there is a Frank Lloyd Wright original. The houses mostly remind me of childhood fairytales with abundant beds of flowers, whimsical architecture, and ornate detailing. 

Afternoon:

Drive or walk back into the downtown of Carmel.  Enjoy walking through the shopping district, with many boutiques and smaller locally owned businesses. Carmel-by-the-Sea’s downtown is an outpost for specialty stores: tasting rooms of local Monterey County vineyards, cheese shops, and small bakeries and restaurants. Established in 1899, The Carmel Bakery (Ocean Avenue, Suite 203), is the oldest commercial building in the town. The original owner even lived in an apartment above the bakery! There is a reason this small bakery has been in business for over 100 years: it offers delicious pastries and suburb sandwiches daily. 

Rub elbows with various vintners while sampling local wines at one of the small tasting rooms.  Most of the shops, like most of Carmel-by-the-Sea, are dog friendly. Three tasting rooms that will not disappoint are: Albatross Ridge Tasting Room (Dolores Street between Ocean and 6th Avenue), Caraccioli Cellars (7393 Dolores Street), or Scheid Vineyard Tasting Rooms (San Carlos Street and 7th Avenue). My favorite is the combined art gallery and tasting room, Scratch Wines Tasting Room (Dolores between Ocean and 7th Avenue). It is female-owner by a UCLA alumni, my alma mater! There is also The Cheese Shop (Ocean and Juniper), with its fun selection of cheeses, olives, and wine. For those who would like to sit down in a quaint lunch spot, Tuckbox (Dolores Street between Ocean and 7th Avenue), housed in a 1927 cottage offers tea and snacks. 

I usually am exhausted at this point in the day, so I would recommend relaxing at your accommodation or down at the beach. 

Late Afternoon:

Spend about an hour and a half before dinner to enjoy a joy ride on the famous 17 Mile Road. While the entrance ticket seems like a rip off; the houses are extravagant, the sunset views are magnificent, and it hosts the ‘golf capital of the world’, Pebble Beach.  On this path is the well-esteemed Pebble Beach Resorts which has hosted the U.S. Open six times. Pebble Beach Resorts has a small visitor center, which is worth the visit to learn the history of the iconic golf course. I would recommend getting a sunset drink at one of Pebble Beach’s sundrenched restaurants that offer outdoor seating: The Bench or Stillwater Cafe. At both, you should expect steep prices and affluent clientele. 

Evening:

For dinner there are many options: Forge in the Forest (Junipero Street and 5th Avenue); order tapas and enjoy live music at Terry’s Lounge at Cypress Inn (Lincoln St and 7th Avenue); if you enjoy farm-to-table asian fusion with a piano bar, Affina (6th and San Carlos Street) is the place to go. Both Treehouse Cafe and Vesuvius offer rooftop dining. Treehouse offers a global menu while Vesuvius (owned by Chef Pepe, who owns the Carmel Bakery) has great italian fare.

While Carmel is not known for their nightlife, you could venture to get a cocktail at one of the rooftop lounges: Vesuvius or Starlight Rooftop Lounge (6th Ave), or get some live music at Barmel which sometimes turns into a dance party. 

A four day itinerary in the Cotswolds, England.

The Cotswolds, or the “The Wolds” is a southwestern region of rolling hills and quaint English villages. It was designated an “area of outstanding natural beauty,” the British equivalent of National Parks in the U.S.

The rolling green hills are decorated with honey-colored limestone houses with stone shingled roofs. Each village seems quintessentially British with a local pub and tea shops downtown.

Many of the towns in the Cotswold sprung from the wool industry, with historical mansions built for the wool merchants and smaller homes for the workers. 

With the industrial revolution and the development of cotton this region saw a major economic decline and many people left the countryside for the city. Now it’s a favorite seasonal get-away for Londoners and tourists in the mood for manor house nostalgia.

The Cotswold’s attracts many walkers for the long hiking trails known as Cotswold’s Way, St. Kenelm’s Way and Monarch’s Way. Many of which pass through English farmhouses and property.

Getting in: We rented a car from Robinson Gross (Tredington Park, Tredington, Shipston-on-Stour CV36 4RN, United Kingdom) just outside of Moreton-on-Marsh.  If you plan ahead and give them ample notice, they offer reasonably priced-rides to the train station. We took the train from  Gatwick Airport (directly to the right when you exit arrivals) to Reading and transferred to a second train heading to Moreton-on Marsh. You can also take the train to Oxford and transfer from there. 

The Lion Inn, in Winchombe was one of the coziest locations!

Accommodations: We wanted to stay in a charming older inn, and we had a car and could stay in a town that wasn’t a transportation hub. We chose The Lion Inn, (37 North Street, Winchcombe, Cheltenham) which proved to be a good home base after a day of trekking and exploring nearby villages.

Day 1: Enjoy a meal at your Inn or local gastropub. After a few hours of navigating the train system or driving in from London, get settled into your lodging. We stayed at the Lions Inn in Winchcombe and enjoyed our first meal at their delightful gastropub. We enjoyed a nightcap in front of their roaring fire. To celebrate your arrival and initiate your adventure, I recommend getting dinner at your local Inn, or a local village favorite that is within walking distance. This way you can still get up early the next morning and start exploring.

Day 2: Hike, Explore Broadway Hike, Explore Hailes Abbey, Broadway and Chipping Campden:

I like to get some exercise in before each adventure. Start your morning off by hiking either Cleeve Hill or Broadway Tower. If you choose Broadway Tower don’t bother paying the 5 pounds to go the three flights up, you have an equally beautiful cascading view from the hilltop.  After getting your hike in, feel free to go about your day in your hiking clothing, the area is very sporty. Check out Hailes Abbey, Chipping Campden and Broadway. Hailes Abbey (Hailes, Cheltenham GL54 5PB, United Kingdom) embodies the reminiscent ruins of a 13th century abbey. The heritage site includes a free audio guide and an intact church showcasing medieval paintings.  It also offers a great place to picnic or take a leisurely stroll. Next up on the itinerary is Broadway. I loved Broadway, with its expansive center and many shops and tea parlours.

We had high tea and snacks at Tisanes Tea Room (Cotswold House, 21 The Green, Broadway WR12 7AA, United Kingdom), which was affordable and low key. Tisanes attracts tourists as well as locals, and we noticed a local knitting group meeting for tea and conversation while we were there.

We had high tea and snacks at Tisanes Tea Room (Cotswold House, 21 The Green, Broadway WR12 7AA, United Kingdom), which was affordable and low key. Two of the grand hotels: The Lygon Arms and The Horse and the Hound, offer great options for a more upscale high tea experience. Spend an hour or so strolling through the town’s various shops. Don’t forget to snap a photo in front of the iconic red telephone booth. Next stop on the village itinerary is Chipping Campden, which is a fifteen minute car ride. For those on foot, it is a five mile walk.

Don’t miss an opportunity to walk down Chipping Campden’s High Street and experience the old Market Square, which was a sheep marketplace in an earlier era.

You can also saunter down to Broad Campden and back up, which provides a quaint respite. The walk is decorated with some iconic thatched roof houses. Once back in Chipping Campden, I recommend getting dinner at The Huxley (High St., Chipping Campden, United Kingdom) in the middle of the village center. Check out if they have a live music event, and in good weather,eat outdoors and get a feel for the village and its people. If you are in the mood for a nightcap at the end of your day, I recommend a visit to Hollow Bottom Beer Garden (Guiting Power, Cheltenham GL54 5UX) for a refreshing local brew from among the many beers on tap.

Day 3: Sudeley Castle, Lower Slaughter, Borton-on-the-water, and Stow-on-the-Wold:

Start your morning by exploring Sudeley Castle (Website,10:00AM-4:00PM, ~17pounds). Get your fill of centuries worth of English history! Next head over to Lower Slaughter. En route to Lower Slaughter, drive through small and underwhelming Upper Slaughter, which is not worth the stop. Once parked in Lower Slaughter, walk around the town and enjoy the beautiful running mill and attached cafe. We had the luxury of arriving just as they were putting some scones into the oven! After walking around Lower Slaughter, follow the 1.5 miles path to the left of the river to walk to the neighboring town of Bourton-on-the-water.

Bourton-on-the-water is absolutely beautiful, but does cater more to tourism. The village is known as “the Venice of the Cotswolds”. Enjoy a leisurely lunch and window shopping in Bourton-on-the-water, like the name entails a river runs through it. I loved just walking over the various bridges downtown. Take the leisurely walk back to your car and end your day in Stow-on-Wold.

The charming village of Bourton-on-the-water with it’s idyllic river through the center of town.

In Stow on the Wold, walk around the center of town, which is more “bustling” than the others. The multipurpose St Edward’s Hall is a library, tourist office and museum. If it peaks your interest, check out the English Civil War artwork on the second floor. The building was built in 1878 from unclaimed funds at the local bank. Don’t miss the medieval St. Edward’s Church.

Stow-on-Wold is home to St. Edward’s Church, which back door seems to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien with the door to Moria.

End your day with dinner at Porch House (1 Digbeth St, Stow-on-the-Wold, Cheltenham GL54 1BN, United Kingdom), publicizing itself as the oldest Inn in England. On their hearth, they have witches’ blessings engraved in the 1700s fireplace. Most of the area has fresh local produce and a seasonal menu. When I was there they had butternut squash risotto, it was amazing!

The Porch House, known as the oldest Inn in England.

Day 4: Daylesford, Woodstock and Blenheim Palace, and local favorite Falkland Arms:

Blenheim Palace

Start your morning off with brunch at Daylesford Organic Farm (Daylesford, Kingham, Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 0YG, United Kingdom) in Gloucestershire. In the United States we have John Deere farm equipment, in England they have JCB, started by Joseph Cyril Bamford in 1945. Anthony Bamford, succeeding his father as the current owner of JCB, was appointed a Lord in 2013. He is also a collector of antique Ferraris and other luxury cars. The Daylesford Organic Farm was started by his wife, Carole. This upscale farmstand is a must see, as it represents a positive outcome of a recent tourism movement in the Cotswolds: sleek, clean, and new. Focusing on organic farming and clothing, this farmstand is the definition of country chic. Spend some time walking around the farmhouse and shops.  Those who prefer to be pampered can get a massage at the spa.
 

 Spend the rest of the day at Blenheim Palace. It has a quirky place in history in that on November 30, 1874, Jennie Churchill was attending a party here when she began to go into labor and gave birth to Winston (what a surprise to the guests and the Churchills alike).

Blenheim Palace is the only English palace that is not in royal rule at this time; those “nonroyals” include Winston Churchill, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and Princess Diana before she married Prince Charles.

 In 1702, Queen Anne gave John Churchill the title of Duke of Marlborough and the Blenheim Palace after a successful victory over the French in the eponym, Battle of Blenheim.

I highly recommend the audio guide to enhance your Blenheim Palace visit. Grab a snack and a coffee from the cafe to sustain you through this expansive tour.

After spending the day at the luxurious Blenheim Palace and garden, enjoy a meal in the Village of Woodstock. I recommend the Black Prince (2 Manor Rd, Woodstock OX20 1XJ, United Kingdom), which has elevated pub food and a beautiful riverside dining area.

If you are looking for a long weekend out of Boston or New York, you may enjoy a weekend itinerary in Mexico City, Mexico; St. Augustine, Florida; or Barcelona, Spain.

A weekend in St. Augustine, FL

Palm trees and sunset in St. Augustine.

St. Augustine, the oldest European settlement in the United States, was founded by the Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565. It was originally called La Florida (“Land of Flowers”) by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who claimed the land in the name of Spain on March 27, 1513. The Land of Flowers still seems to fit this beautiful old area of Florida.

Growing up in America’s northeastern seaboard, I recall someone jokingly referring to Florida as “a sunny place for shady people”and I avoided the state for other southern destinations such as New Orleans, Savannah or Charleston, with rich culture and history and comparably warm climates. Yet, St. Augustine, Florida has been on my American bucket list for a number of years and now I finally got to see it. It was worth the wait as I found the city to be charming, historic, full of good restaurants and genuinely friendly, welcoming people.  Here is a brief weekend itinerary for anyone interested in visiting.

When to go: 

Living in New York City, I would highly recommend going during our cold months (January, February, or March) when you want to get out. The summers in Florida are too hot and humid for me. So anytime from December-March is ideal.  I had the luck of visiting during a festival called “Lincolnville Porchfest” which is a grassroots neighborhood festival featuring local artists at different porches in the Lincolnville section of St. Augustine over President’s Day weekend.

Friday:

Get settled into your accommodations and go out for dinner either at one of the many seafood places along Avenida Menendez with views of the Matanzas River, or go over the Bridge of Lions and try one of the popular restaurants on A1A Beach Boulevard. Having just arrived in St. Augustine, I chose Sunset Grille, arriving at the peak of Friday Night Happy Hour.  I admit that I chose the Sunset Grille based solely on the name and the proximity to St. Augustine Beach, which is across the street. Unfortunately, there are no ocean views due to tall buildings and a berm being in the way. While the Sunset Grille had no romantic sunset views, it had a really lively Happy Hour attended by friendly, ebullient locals who were celebrating the end of the work week and the beginning of the weekend. In sum, while the food was okay, and there are no sunset views, the Sunset Grille is a fun place to kick off the weekend.

Saturday:

Grab some fresh,local produce and rub elbows with the locals at the St. Augustine’s Farmers Market.

Drive over to the St. Augustine’s Amphitheater Farmer’s Market (1340C A1A S). Open Saturday 8:30-12:30pm.

Late morning: Window shopping Aviles St and St Georges St (both of which cater to tourism), check out the Cathedral, the main square, and the gardens at the LIghtner Museum.

Try to get a table outdoors and enjoy a healthy brunch at the Floridian Restaurant.

Afternoon: take a tour of Flagler College (74 King St, historical tours are offered at 10:00AM and 2:00PM and last about an hour).  This elegant college campus was formerly the Ponce De Leon Hotel, built in the late 1800s as a winter resort by Henry Morrison Flagler with the interior designed by Louis C. Tiffany. Flagler was an industrialist, railroad pioneer and oil magnate. The school store doubles as the ticket office and the college students who run the store also serve as the tour guides, so the school store/ticket office is closed from 10-11 AM and 2-3 PM while the tours are going on. Try to get tickets ahead of time because in high season they sell out. The engaging tour guides are very knowledgeable and humorous.

An artist at Lincolnville’s Porchfest.

We stayed at an airbnb in the historic Lincolnville neighborhood near downtown St. Augustine during porchfest, so we walked around Lincolnville and enjoyed the music and banter with the neighbors. Lincolnville is an historic black neighborhood where Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke and stayed over during the Civil Rights Movement.

Evening:

Rose on the rooftop of San Sebastian Winery after the end of a “long” day of window shopping.

Get a happy hour drink  at San Sebastian Winery (157 King St, Monday-Saturday, 10 AM – 6PM and Sunday, 11 AM – 6PM). San Sebastian Winery is in Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railway Building. They have complimentary tours and wine-tasting starting every 20 to 25 minutes. The highlight was making it to the rooftop bar that offers live music most nights.

The charming restaurant called Preserved (102 Bridge St) is housed in a renovated Victorian house. If possible try to get seating outside on the patio. They serve locally sourced ingredients at this southern restaurant.

Sunday

Brunch at Maple Street Biscuit Company or Blue Hen Cafe.

 Spend an hour checking out the beautiful Mission of Nombre de Dios (Saturday 9:00AM- 5:00PM, Sunday 12-4:00PM) and the great cross. The beautiful mission and its grounds present a nice place to enjoy a morning stroll.

A few blocks from the Mission of Nombre de Dios is the beautiful Magnolia Avenue. Definitely worth the two block hiatus from the Mission to drive, bike, or walk down.

Get a coffee fix from Crucial Coffee Cafe before heading to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (9:00 AM – 5:00 PM) They do cannon reenactments on the top level. Try to sit close to where the cannon, so you can hear the history lesson, but you may want to block your ears for a moment as the cannon is fired.

For Sunday night dinner, I highly recommend that you try the large Columbia Restaurant. Call ahead for reservations.  This old-time restaurant has been in the same family for over 100 years. The wait-staff, ambiance and food are phenomenal. I recommend the sangria, paella and the salad.  In my group, we ordered varied entrees, did some sharing and found the food to be consistently excellent.

If you are based on the east coast and are looking for a weekend getaway consider looking at my Barcelona, Cotswolds, Mexico City, or San Diego itineraries.

A trulli, a cave, and a masseria oh my!

View from the courtyard of our stay in Masseria Santa Lucia.

Your first question is probably: what’s with all these weird words in the title? The answer: they are different types of accommodations that we tried while in the Puglia and Basilicata (the heel and instep) regions of Italy. My main reason for travelling to these destinations were a) I kept seeing cool instagram photos from Matera, and b) my friend Jen from World On A Whim mentioned that the city of Matera is the 2019 Cultural Capital of Europe.  So we set a date (really it’s all around my school schedule) and booked our flights. Here is a brief list of the accommodations that we stayed in:

What is a Trulli?

Photogenic Tullis. Alberobello is filled with camera-carrying tourists taking pictures of the trullis, some of which have been converted to use by the tourism industry as gift shops, museums and high end restaurants.

A Trulli is a small hut-like building with a conical roof which gives it the appearance of a hobbit or troll house.  The uniformly white bases of these iconic structures are constructed from limestone masonry and are topped off with a wheat-colored dome-like roof.  Theses idiosyncratic homes are plentiful in the Puglia region of Italy. The largest collection are located in the town of Alberobello, which is well- known for their signature Trulli houses. The region’s abundance of limestone, karst and calcareous sedimentary was utilized to create the mortarless houses. Why mortarless? As the 18th century population increased, people created the commune of Alberobello.  The local Count didn’t want to pay taxes for a new development to the Spanish Viceroyal of Bourbon and therefore requested his citizens to create housing that was easy to dismantle and fool the tax assessors.

If staying overnight, I would recommend either staying in the new part of Alberobello or outside in the countryside. While we really enjoyed walking around and seeing the trullis you could enjoy a day-trip here and move on.

What is it like staying in a cave?

While other cliffside towns are built on top of the deep ravine, the houses and entire sassi are built into and complementary to the preexisting caves.  With hundreds of years of layers placed in one building it is hard to differentiate when different additions were added.

Tragically beautiful Matera has gone from obscurity to fame over the past century.  Evacuated in the 1950’s for rampant poverty and disease, Matera was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1993 and 2019 European Capital of Culture recognition.

View of the room does not give it justice. Definitely great sleep was had here, staying in a cave provides that not much natural light will wake you up in the morning.

Matera has been inhabited since the Paleolithic time. In ancient times, cave-dwelling settlers moved into the tofu rock caverns of the steep ravine. Eventually more people moved in and the community of cave-like dwellings became known as the Sassi (Italian for “the stones”). We stayed in a carefully renovated, beautiful cave hotel. I would recommend this unique experience.

If you are looking for a more in depth weekend itinerary for Matera, please find it here: A weekend in Matera, Italy.

What is a masseria?

A “masseria” is an Italian version of a plantation or hacienda. The name masseria is known mostly in the Puglia region of Italy. From the 16th to18th century,  masserias were the farmhouses in which workers and “pedrones” (English: master/boss) would reside while harvesting large farms. Italy has a number of farmhouses which are still on functioning farms and which are available as lodging alternatives. We stayed at a converted 16th century farmhouse. The owners made the best meal of our vacation, with fresh ingredients from their gardens. For a uniquely satisfying experience, I would recommend staying in a farmhouse in any region of Italy for one or two days . Research agriturismo.it or bookings.com for farmhouse lodging options.

A Mystical Two Days in Meteora, Greece

The sandstone columns topped with ornate monasteries provide a breathtaking backdrop to the sleepy town of Kalambaka and the neighboring village of Kastraki. I am sure the mountainous northern region of mainland Greece is not what you expect when thinking of a Greek getaway.

The majestic cliff-top monasteries of Meteora will awe you into feeling like you are the star of a Lord of the Rings movie. Two days in this UNESCO World Heritage Site provide a unique refuge from the hustle and bustle of Athens or island-hopping festivities. Each monastery provides centuries’ worth of history and an instagram-worthy photo-shoot. Meteora allows any tourist to admire nature and ponder the lives of the early inhabitants of this distinctive, stunning  location.

The rickety wooden ladders and pulleys were used for access to these locations and were only replaced when they broke (hope no one was on it!) You could not pay me any amount of money to try the ladders.

Meteora’s religious community dates back to a few solo hermitages in the early 11th century. The dilapidated, wooden hermitages were used until the 19th century. Eventually (mostly during the 14th and 15th century) numerous monks moved here and created the beautiful monasteries and a larger skete community devoted to the austere way of life.

Getting there: Kalambaka is a 4 hour drive or a 5 hour train ride (~30 euros) from Athens. I took the train and was able to walk to my accommodation a few blocks away. Please see the website to book trains here. I chose to make sure I did not have to switch trains, since I do not know the language and my understanding of the Greek alphabet is solely based on my college sorority days. Typically, I take a screenshot of the directions from my hotel in Athens to the train station, and then from the train station in Meteora to my local hotel, so that I know the directions once I depart the train, even if my phone has no service.

While I chose to hike up and then walk between the monasteries, I would only recommend this to those who consider themselves fit. You will do a reasonable amount of unshaded walking between the monasteries.

Tips: For my entire time in Meteora I chose to hike. While this is the norm for a good portion of the people in Meteora there are other transportation options for every type of traveller, including taxis, public busses, or chartered bus tours. Choose whichever suits your fitness level and travel style. I recommend packing sunprotection and an additional layer, both for respite from the sun, and also for entrance into the monasteries as guests are expected to cover their shoulders and legs. Women are not allowed entrance into some monasteries without a skirt. All of the monasteries have a three euros, cash only, entrance fee.

Timing: If you want to see all of the monasteries, I would recommend 1.5 days and 2 nights in Meteora, as the six monasteries have different days and hours that they are open. Otherwise, you could see some of the monasteries in one full day and night. I went during the summer, so I had some down-time after seeing all the monasteries and before sunset. Meteora was great in summer and I have heard good things about the fall foliage. This can easily be added to the beginning or end of a ten day itinerary in Greece.

Day 1: Sunset

Sunset at “Psaropetra Lookout”

Arrive in Meteora in the late afternoon, check into your hotel. Make it to “Psaropetra Lookout” for breathtaking panoramic sunsets on the mountain top. The location is clearly marked on maps, and your hotel can arrange for a taxi. Get a late dinner in Kalambaka before getting to bed in time for an early morning. Meteora is known for its religious pilgrimages and trekking tourism, so don’t be surprised to find at least one orthodox priest at every restaurant you go to. That being said there is not much in the way of vibrant nightlife. I wanted to experience the full village life and only went to tavernas (small Greek restaurants), all of which were inexpensive. The three taverna restaurants I recommend are: Taverna Paramithi (has live music), Taverna Gardenia (in Kastraki), and Archontariki Taverna. Enjoy eating in both Kastraki and Kalambaka once, just to compare the two villages.

Day 2: Hiking and Monasteries

Check on opening and closing times to determine which monasteries you are going to see on which days. I decided to make a loop of the monasteries that were open, but save two for the following day. I woke up early so I could arrive at the first monastery at opening time. Travelling from Kalambaka it was roughly a  3.4 mile (~5500 meter) hike to Moni Agias Triados (Holy Trinity) (open from 9:00 AM-5:00 PM, but closed on Thursdays.) Be prepared to climb up stone mountain stairs in order to get to the entrance. For any 007 fans, this monastery was featured in the 1981 James Bond film For your Eyes Only.

Our second event involved a 15 minute walk east along the main road (okay, it took us longer because we  stopped for picture-taking) to Moni Agias Stefanou (open hours 9:00AM-1:30 PM & 3:30 PM-5:30 PM, but closed on Mondays.) Beware of the break in the middle of the day. The entrance is a small bridge with a terrifying drop!

Our next trek involved 4 km walk (which took about an hour) to Moni Varlaam (open hours: 9:00 AM-4:00 PM, but closed on Fridays.) A visit to Moni Varlaam should be combined with a visit to Moni Megalou, which is fifteen minutes away.

Moni Megalou Meteorou, or “Grand Meteoron” (open hours: 9:00 AM -5:00 PM, but closed on Tuesdays) is the most impressive of the monasteries.  Founded in the 14th century, it became the richest monastery when the Serbian Emperor Symeon Uros donated all of his money and became a monk. One can walk back to town from here or ask an attendant for directions to the bus stop.

Evening: see Day 1 Sunset itinerary, and repeat with a different dinner location.

Day 3: Half day of hiking and monasteries

For Day-3, we did a reverse loop, what I call the “Kastraki loop,” as that was our starting point. Give yourself some time to hike a few of the sights near Kastraki, such as St. George Mantilas, the ruins of old cave dwellings, and St. Nicholas Bantovas, a still-functioning monastery.

View from a monks dormatory in Moni Agiou Nikolaou

We stopped at Moni Agiou Nikolaou (English: St. Nicholas; open hours: 9:00 AM-3:30 PM, but closed on Fridays) which is about 0.2 km from Kastraki village square.

Our last visit was to Moni Agias Varvaras Rousanou (open hours: 9:00 AM-5:45 PM, but closed on Wednesdays.) Near closing time, be alert for the call to vespers (evening prayer) made by a wooden talando.

If you are going at a relaxed pace, you can stay another night in Kalambaka. For those with a tighter schedule, I would recommend leaving in the late afternoon to your next destination.

For an easier visual here are the two hiking routes I created in numeric form.

“Kalambaka loop”, starts in Kalambaka:

  1. Moni Agias Triados (Holy Trinity) (open from 9:00 AM-5:00 PM, but closed on Thursdays.) This is roughly a  3.4 mile (~5500 meter) hike from Kalambaka town.
  2. Moni Agias Stefanou (open hours 9:00AM-1:30 PM & 3:30 PM-5:30 PM, but closed on Mondays.) This is 15 minutes east from Moni Agias Triados.
  3. Moni Agias Varvaras Rousanou (open hours: 9:00 AM-5:45 PM, but closed on Wednesdays.)
  4. Moni Varlaam (open hours: 9:00 AM-4:00 PM, but closed on Fridays.) A visit to Moni Varlaam should be combined with a visit to Moni Megalou, which is fifteen minutes away.
  5. Moni Megalou Meteorou, or “Grand Meteoron” (open hours: 9:00 AM -5:00 PM, but closed on Tuesdays), there is a hiking path to get here which is shaded. At the T, so to the left which will lead to the entrance.
  6. Moni Agiou Nikolaou (English: St. Nicholas; open hours: 9:00 AM-3:30 PM, but closed on Fridays) which is about 0.2 km from Kastraki village square.

“Kastraki loop,” starts in Kastraki:

  1. Moni Agiou Nikolaou (English: St. Nicholas; open hours: 9:00 AM-3:30 PM, but closed on Fridays) which is about 0.2 km from Kastraki village square.
  2. Moni Megalou Meteorou, or “Grand Meteoron” (open hours: 9:00 AM -5:00 PM, but closed on Tuesdays), there is a hiking path to get here which is shaded. At the T, go to the left which will lead to the entrance. This is a less travelled hiking area but the path is clearly demarcated.
  3. Moni Varlaam (open hours: 9:00 AM-4:00 PM, but closed on Fridays.) A visit to Moni Varlaam should be combined with a visit to Moni Megalou, which is fifteen minutes away.
  4. Moni Agias Varvaras Rousanou (open hours: 9:00 AM-5:45 PM, but closed on Wednesdays.) Near closing time, be alert for the call to vespers (evening prayer) made by a wooden talando.
  5. Moni Agias Stefanou (open hours 9:00AM-1:30 PM & 3:30 PM-5:30 PM, but closed on Mondays.) This is 15 minutes east from Agias Triados, so you will pass Agias Triados Agias Stefanou then backtrack to Agias Triados.
  6. Moni Agias Triados (Holy Trinity) (open from 9:00 AM-5:00 PM, but closed on Thursdays.) This is then a downhill walk back to Kalambaka town center, which you can either walk back to Kastraki or stay here.


A delectable three days in NOLA

Whether you are visiting New Orleans (“NOLA”) for a bachelor(ette) party, Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras, or just a weekend getaway prepare to indulge all of your senses with music, food, drinks and culture in this one-of-a-kind city.  The aromas of Cajun cooking billow into the streets from restaurants and houses, watering your tastebuds. Live jazz flows at all hours from the bars and cafes along Bourbon and Frenchman Street. Whatever you are coming for, the city is bursting with a melange of culture and life.

First claimed in the 17th century under French Rule, with a brief stint under the Spanish in the late 18th century, NOLA was later sold to the United States by Napoleon in the 1805 Louisiana Purchase. The medley of French, Spanish, African-American, and Creole influences are in abundance in the architecture, cooking, and culture of the city today.

Timing: Many people visit the city for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (nicknamed: “Jazz Fest”) which is usually held at the end of April/early May (details can be found here). Mardi Gras, first documented in 1699 by the French, it is now a two-week festival leading up to Ash Wednesday. For more information please follow this link.

Three people to know before you go: Maria Laveau, known as the voodoo queen of New Orleans, Jean Lafitte, a French pirate and smuggler based out of New Orleans who made a deal to help Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans from the British in return for a pardon, and  Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial, governor of Louisiana for over a decade and the last governor of New France, known for building New Orleans into the rich port city which is sometimes called petit Paris.

Arrive Thursday evening and check into your hotel.

Dinner:  Kingfish for dinner and then stop by Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, located at the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Philip Street in the French Quarter. Legend has it that Jean Lafitte ran a business here, and it is also claimed to be the oldest structure housing a bar in the United States.

Day 1: Friday

Start your morning off at Café Du Monde for chicory coffee and Beignets (French deep-fried choux pastry, and don’t wear black because the powdered sugar will be everywhere!) Fried dough for breakfast? Definitely indulging in every 7 year old’s impulses! Bring money because Café Du Monde is cash only.

Enjoy the afternoon at a Swamp Tour with Cajun Encounters, and keep in mind that for a small additional charge they pick you up at your hotel. This was one of my favorite things. Listen to authentic Louisiana accents, and see wild boars and alligators.  I wore my best camo outfit to blend in. Observe how people live in the Bayou. Behold the houses on stilts with motor boats for transportation, which safeguards property from flooding.

Drake enjoying Gene’s Poboy in his music video “In My Feelings”.

Grab some po-boys for snack time. There are two po-boy shops I recommend: Gene’s, which was featured in Drake’s “In my Feelings” music video, or the Parkway Bakery and Tavern, which has been around for over 100 years.  For an afternoon activity, I would recommend one or more of the following: Do a bar-circuit to sample famous drinks (like the iconic and tropical Hand Grenade drink) while people-watching the antics of Bourbon St. It may seem like an adult frat party.  Check out the two-story verandas on the mansions in the historic garden district, or some Voodoo shops, or try all of the above.

Enjoying dinner at Three Muses. Please ignore our “sippie cupes”, for drinking in the street!

For the evening, I recommend dinner at the bohemian Three Muses. The restaurant offers live music, small plates, and house cocktails. What more could you ask for!

New Orleans has everything from Jazz, Cajun and Brass Bands playing every night. Enjoy a night of live music wandering around the French Quarter to find your favorite live music location (try Bourbon Street or, for a different vibe, the less crowded Frenchmen Street which many people find to be more enjoyable).

Make a pitstop at the Frenchman Art Market while walking through bars looking for live music.

Day 2: Saturday

Start your morning off at the Court of Two Sisters for their Jazz Brunch. The purple flowers of the willow trees cascade over the courtyard, the dappled lighting is supplemented by draped twinkle lights. The buffet offers a leisurely brunch while you imagine life as an aristocratic French Colonialist.

Learn about the history of burial in New Orleans, with a St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 Tour.  A guided tour is a must, in accordance with archdiocese rules, so make sure to book ahead of time. The tour guides are local historians who will lead you through the one mile walk over cobblestones.  The guide will point out the unique above-ground burial vaults which are a necessity because of the high water table. Buried here are Homer Plessy (of the landmark civil rights case Plessy vs Ferguson), voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, and a pyramid shaped tomb purchased by Nicolas Cage.

Enjoying dinner at Mr. B’s Bistro.

In the evening, try a swanky night of pre-dinner drinks at Carousel Bar. Grab seats at the spinning bar! Continue on with dinner across the street at Mr. B’s Bistro. They are known for their shrimp and gumbo! If up for it, enjoy another fun night out listening to the live music. If you went to Bourbon Street the night before try Frenchmen Street, or vice versa.

Day 3: Sunday

Check out, get a beignet to go, and fly home.

An Ideal 3 Days in San Diego

San Diego, this vibrant coastal city with a laid back vibe allows for any traveler to have a relaxing escape. Don’t be surprised if you hear F18 aircrafts flying overhead because this city has a foundation as a military town. Whether you are a foodie, family of five, or college student on spring break San Diego has something for you. It offers canyons and peaks to hike, beaches to sunbathe or learn to surf at, and is home to many micro breweries to indulge in.  

Torrey Pines.

Friday: Brewery Tours

Enjoying a cold brew in Stone Brewery’s beer garden.

Start your day off with a self-guided brewery tour in Miramar, take an uber because those IPA’s are strong!  Miramar hosts Ballast point, Green Flash, Saint Archer, Ale Smith, 32 North, and the glute-friendly Duck Foot.

Soak up some of the hops with lunch from the hole in the wall, Punjabi Tandor. A personal favorite is chicken tikka masala and the garlic naan.

Entrance of Stone Brewery at night.

In the evening enjoy happy hour and sunset at subscale Vintana in Escondido. Then end your day of breweries with dinner in the lush beer garden at Stone Brewery.

Saturday: Coastal Adventures in chic seaside community of La Jolla

Cafe Caroline in La Jolla Shores.

Start your day off with a low key breakfast at Café Caroline on top of a UCSD Oceanography building in La Jolla Shore. Get a morning coastal hike in at Torrey Pines. La Jolla Cove is known for good kayaking if you would prefer a water sport.

Rocks along the beach at Torrey Pines.

Grab a well earned lunch at Puesto in La Jolla Village. You can’t go wrong with any of the crispy cheese tacos and their rotating seasonal guacamole. Take some time enjoying the sunshine and water in La Jolla Cove.

Make it to a quaint early dinner and/or happy hour at Herringbone La Jolla.

Evening options: Little Italy for gelato or nightlife and a speakeasy if you are into it in the Gaslamp district

Sunday: Coronado and Balboa Park

Brunch at Coronado’s Clayton’s.

Get breakfast at Clayton’s Diner or Leroy’s on Coronado. Despite being called “Coronado Island” this section of San Diego is actually a man-made peninsula, and home to a Naval Base. Walk to Hotel Del Coronado (known locally “Hotel Del”) for some sunbathing.

Drive to Balboa Park and enjoy one of the many cultural exhibits (San Diego Museum of Art, Japanese Tea Garden, Rose Garden, Air and Space Museum, etc.) Get a lunch at Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill, all of their pizza and pasta is phenomenal. They also host a seasonal 9 course Beast Feast.

Enjoying a walk through Balboa Park with friends.

Enjoy dinner and nightly Mariachi performances in Old Towne. Old Towne is the location of the Mission San Diego de Alcála, by which the city is named after. I recommend Casa Guadalajara, with its vibrant decorations and price conscious happy hour deals.

Mariachi display in Olde Town.

Evening options: the alternative from the night before either Little Italy for gelato or nightlife in the Gaslamp district.

The ultimate long weekend in Mexico City: 3 day itinerary

Ballet Folklorico de Mexico in the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Mexico City has been on the top of my ‘must see’ list ever since watching the opening scene of the movie Spectre, showing James Bond chasing a villain in the ‘Zocola’ (City Center) during a colorful Day of the Dead festival. I absolutely loved Mexico City! It is the perfect long weekend trip because you can see diverse cultural attractions ranging from Mayan Ruins, Colonial-era Spanish Cathedrals, and Diego Rivera murals all within a few blocks of each other (and all free). The city has a vibrant food scene ranging from street food to upscale dining, with everything in between. With the favorable peso to dollar conversion rate, a long weekend away will not break the bank. Obviously, in a major metropolitan city there is always more to see, but in a long weekend you can check off a lot of major sites while having a good time.

A GIF from the beginning of the Spectre Movie.

This often overlooked cosmopolitan city dates back to 1325 when it was known as “Tenochititlan,” the cultural and political capital of the Aztec empire. Later conquered by the Spaniards in the 1500’s, the layers of historical and cultural influence are interspersed into the now modern city. Mexico City or locally known “DF” and “CDMX” (short for the Spanish Districto Federal and Ciudad de Mexico, respectively) has the second largest number of museums outside of Paris and a majority are free.The city is known for murals from Diego Rivera to a large street-art scene and a lively nightlife for any type of traveller. Although public transportation is an option, Uber is abundant and none of my rides cost more than $4.50 (roughly around 88 pesos).

Street Art in Mexico City

Hotels and flights: I would recommend staying in either Condesa, Roma Norte, or Polanco.  All have great food and exciting nightlife. We opted for an airbnb in Condesa. You can research accommodations through various sites such as hotels.com, bookings.com, and airbnb. I checked flights for Mexico City for a while and was able to get an Aeromexico flight for $260 round trip from NYC over a long weekend. I arrived on Thursday night after work, so I got the full day of Friday to explore. Before going I watched the movie, Frida, a biography of the artist, Frida Kahlo, starring Salma Hayek which gave an interesting perspective on her life (1907-1954) and the central role she and Diego Rivera played in the the Mexican artistic and political scene.

Day 1:

We stayed in Condesa and went to the restaurant Lardo for breakfast. They have wonderful breakfast options and huge windows overlooking the street. If you are staying in Roma Norte I would recommend trying out one of the three: Huset, Panaderia Rosetta, or Blanco Colima for breakfast. All have great food and equally appealing ambience.

Take the morning and early afternoon to walk around the the center. Make sure that you see the major sites in the Plaza de la Constitución, colloquially known as the “Zócalo.” The massive square hosts Templo Mayor, a 13th century Aztec temple and both the Spanish Cathedral and Basilica. Construction on the Cathedral commenced in the 1500’s and wasn’t completed until the 19th century. The Templo Mayor was destroyed and buried, but centuries later the buried remains of the Temple were discovered by electrical workers and, over time, excavated and restored.

If you need a coffee break, walk over the the beautiful Gran Hotel Cuidad de Mexico for a coffee or a drink at the rooftop bar. The hotel features an ornate interior of wrought iron elevators, tiffany glass ceilings, and birds chirping in the entrance.

Make sure to make it to the Palacio Nacional, which showcases murals by Diego Rivera. The entrance is on Calle Moneda and if  you continue walking away from the Zócalo for a few blocks you will be bombarded with numerous vendors with low cost trinkettes, street carts with food and street artwork.

Some of Diego Rivera’s work in the National Palace

Make your way back to Avenida Hidalgo to Cafe de Tacuba, where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch. It has beautiful tile-work and  is the location of one of Diego Rivera’s weddings. After lunch walk the last few blocks to Palacio de Bellas Artes to purchase tickets for Sunday. Don’t miss the Diego Rivera murals called “Man Controller of the Universe” and “Carnaval de la Vida Mexicana.” If you’re up for it, you can elect to the go to the top of Torre Latinoamericana for views of the cityscape.

Palacio Bellas Artes

In addition to Cafe Tacuba, there are a few different places in the city center that I would recommend, all within a few blocks of each other: Azul Historico (probably the most fancy of the recommendations), Hosteria Santo Domingo, and limosneros, which is located in a converted convent.


Mariachi tip: I would skip tired and seedy Garibaldi Square and opt to hear Mariachi performers at either the unassuming Cantina La Guadalupana after a trip to Frida Kahlo’s Museum or while riding a trajineras in Xochimilco (see Sunday’s itinerary for more details.)  

After lunch, that an Uber to the Chapultepec park which has both the Chapultepec Castle and the National Museum of Anthropology. I would recommend double checking the open hours for the museum, because we arrived at 5 thinking it closed at 7pm (listed on Google) and they were closing. The museum will give you better context to the day trip to Teotihuacan on Day 2.

Inside Chapultepec park are street performers called Danza de los Voladores (translated to “Dance of the Flyers”), in which four or five colorfully dressed dancers fly around a 30 foot pole while attached to it with a rope.

End the night with an amazing meal at Contramar in Condesa.

Day 2:

Spending the day out in the Ruins of Teotihuacan. Bring layers and sun protection because the temperature is cold in the morning and warms up by midday and there isn’t much shade.

Take a half-day trip to the ruins of Teotihuacan, an hour outside of Mexico City. (Try to say that name ten times fast). Our tour guide, Tomas Alberto Ortega Corona (Teotihuacan al extremo), is actually an archaeologist who grew up in the town of Teotihuacan. He gave an extensive history of the site (which I knew nothing about) and even provided home videos of excavations he had been on. Bruin on a Budget tip: Take an Uber to the bus station and then take the public bus to the site, instead of hiring an all inclusive bus trip. Our tour was 120 pesos total (which is roughly 6 dollars.)

When we got back to the city, we rested and then spent the rest of the day and into the evening window shopping, dining and mezcal-tasting around Roma Norte.

Day 3:

A dancer in the Ballet Folklorica

On Sunday we elected to go to the 9:30 AM Ballet Folklorica in the beautiful Palacio de Artes.  It was a great start to the day; the traditional costumes and dances provide a history of the culture of Mexico. The music and dancing is contagious. Don’t forget to take note of the Tiffany curtains and the Diego Rivera murals.

Gondola like “trajineras” in Xochimilco

In the morning enjoy a tour of Xochimilco. At one point in time this was a unique city outside of CDMX, and it still has a suburban feel. During the Pre-Hispanic period, this was the location of Lake Xochimilco. What remains is a canal system and man-made island farms called “chinampas” or floating gardens. Visitors in colorful boats called “trajineras” while a mariachi band serenades you and lunch is served. These boats can fit up to 20 people and often carry groups celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or some other festive gathering.

Self Portrait by Frida Khalo on displayin Casa Azul.

We then took a car to Frida Kahlo’s Museum or “Casa Azul” in the southern neighborhood of Coyoacán. I would recommend reserving timed tickets from boletosfridakahlo, because there is always a long line. Coyoacán has an identity of its own and I would recommend shopping at the Mercado de Coyoacán, a classic public market; grabbing a coffee from Cafe el Jarocho, and enjoying a mariachi band over an dinner at the lively and unpretentious Cantina La Guadalupana.

Fly home either Sunday evening or Monday morning

The ultimate long weekend in Barcelona: 3 day itinerary

Parc Guell

Barcelona, this vibrant coastal city buzzing with life, has long been one of my favorite cities in the world. The Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí, modernized the city with colorful and eccentric buildings such as Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, and the Sagrada Familia church that add to the enjoyment of Barcelona make it more memorable. This unique city offers much on the arts, food, beach, and nightlife scene. It has something to satisfy every type of traveller.

Barcelona, the Catalan capital was originally founded by the Romans as a walled colony named “Barcino”, and some of the ancient walls are still visible in the city center. The narrow medieval maze of the Gothic Quarter (Catalan: Barri Gòtic – Spanish: Barrio Gótico) bears witness to the economic boom of the Middle Ages, when Barcelona was the political and economic center of the Western Mediterranean. The Gothic Quarter makes way to the bohemian El Born neighborhood which was created as an expansion of the walled city in the 1500’s. These historic sites are meant to be explored on foot.  

Barcelona was in the forefront of the artistic movement of the 20th century, following an economic and cultural expansion during the textile industry in the 1800’s. Notably, in 1862, Hans Christian Andersen remarked that Barcelona was the “Paris of Spain”. It is no wonder that many members of the nomadic “Lost Generation” were frequent visitors to Barcelona for literary inspiration as well as binge drinking. The Barcelona waterfront area bubbles with life offering a spot for sunbathers, a strip of nightclubs for night owls, and a beautiful stroll to be explored on foot or bicycle. Enjoy a café  con leche or signature churros con chocolate in one of the numerous cafes. Many of the cafes are called “granjas” and one can image Picasso, Dali and Hemingway creating the artistic vitality that Barcelona is still known for today. The passionate Spanish are stereotypically known for their love of the 5 F’s: food, family, fútbol and fiesta, and I can jump on board with that.

I would recommend reading In the Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which is set in Barcelona around the end of the Spanish Civil War. I would also recommend watching Vicki, Christina, Barcelona starring Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, and Penélope Cruz, which also has its setting in Barcelona.

Accomodation and transportation: I have generally been able to find flights from NYC for $400 round trip. I would opt to stay in El Born, the Gothic Quarter, or stay in larger Eixample neighborhoods. Much of Barcelona’s city center is meant to be walked and staying in one of these neighborhoods will ensure that you are able to walk down the winding alleyways, or saunter through some of the numerous palm-tree-lined squares. The subway system is extensive and easy to use, and you can get multi-trip passes (I would recommend the T10 for ten trips).

Timing: The weather is best from April until October, and I personally prefer travelling on the “shoulder” seasons, meaning September/October or May/June, to avoid the crowds. I would also recommend going to the festival of La Mercè, which is held at the end of September. Check out World on the Whim’s blog post about La Mercè. Another fun festival is the Festas de Gràcia, which is held in August, where each street of this lively neighbourhood is completely transformed based on a different theme.

Bruin on a Budget: Bring a student or teacher ID and see if it works for discounted prices. At some locations you must be from the EU, but others accept any form of ID.

Warning: When walking on Las Ramblas, be on alert for pickpocketing. For men, I would recommend putting your wallet in your front pocket, and for women I suggest carrying a purse zipped and in front of you.

Without further adieu here is my 3 day itinerary for Barcelona:

Day 1:

Start at Plaça Catalunya. Walk down the pedestrian boulevard, Las Ramblas, which runs from the city center to the port, and is bustling with life. It is lined with street performers, flower stalls, and pushcart vendors offering various trinkettes. Along the walk you will see the Font de Canaletes, a famous wrought-iron fountain, which, legend says, if you drink from it you are destined to return to the city. This is the fountain Barça supporters go to for celebrating championship titles. Continue on Las Ramblas to breakfast at Pinotxo Bar in La Boqueria (full name is “El Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria”) an open-air market. I like to stock up on fruit from the market for later consumption.

Dancers still raise their arms to dance the Barcelona traditional dance, the Sardana, in front of the Cathedral on weekends (Saturdays at 6 pm and Sundays at noon).

Spend a leisurely morning strolling down Las Ramblas and into the Gothic Quarter. Take time to visit the Cathedral, Plaza Real, and the Palace of Music. The Gothic Quarter has storefronts with wares that overflow into the street. The same neighborhood can seem dark and moody, but still safe, in the evening, reminding a tourist of its Medieval history.

Take a break at Caelum (Carrer de la Palla, 8), a former women’s bathhouse now converted to a tea parlor. If you want something sweeter, you will have to try churros con chocolate, a Spanish donut served with dipping chocolate, and a Barcelona favorite! I love Granja M Viader, a cafe located off Las Ramblas in the Raval neighborhood. This stately restaurant, which has been running since 1870 and has been passed down for five generations, serves breakfast, lunch and dessert. You may also want to take a walk down Carrer de Petritxol, a quaint street in the Gothic Quarter, which has many pastry shops to choose from, and La Pallaresa is another favorite bakery for churros y chocolate.

In the afternoon take a trip to the Picasso Museum (if you are a fan). It is located in the Born neighborhood. I would recommend making reservations online to avoid a long wait. Additionally, you may want to pack some snacks and visit the Parc de la Ciutadella (Citadel Park.) Park Ciutadella, a magnificent park for picnicking. After, you can walk up to the Arco de Triunfo (Arc de Triomf).

After all this you may want to plan for a well-deserved siesta.

For Saturday evening, head out for a sunset drink on the Catalan Art Museum’s terrace.  The museum is free on Saturdays after 3:00 PM, and entrance to the terrace is 2 euros. Don’t miss the “Magic Fountain,” a light show beginning every half hour starting at 9:30 PM, on Thursday through Sunday, from May to October. The Spanish do not eat dinner until 9:00 PM so head over to the Gothic Quarter, Born, or Gràcia neighborhoods for dinner.

If you are interested in the clubbing scene: Barcelona has numerous popular places and among the favorites are: Razzmatazz, Pacha, La Terrazza, ShÔko, and Opium. They name their nightclubs as randomly as celebrities name their children.


Day 2: The Modernist Day

Start your day off at Gaudí’s Parc Güell, with its much photographed and instagrammed mosaic benches and salamander stairway. The €7 entrance fee for the park also includes access to the museum. There is superb vantage point of the city (I believe it may actually be a cross).

The ornate exterior artitecture of Casa Batlló.

From Parc Guell take a winding 1.6 mile walk (or taxi ride) through the Gràcia neighborhood to Casa Milà or La Padrera (“stone quarry”). En route, stop to view the exterior of Casa Vicens and Casa de les Punxes. When visiting the interior of Casa Milà, take note of the ornate roof.  From there, it is a 5 minute walk to a block of Gaudí houses: Casa Batlló, Casa Morera, or Casa Amatller. From early June through mid-September you can listen to jazz on the rooftop of La Pedrera.Find the information here.

Stop for lunch in the Gràcia or Eixample neighborhoods. A personal favorite is Napa, a Catalan restaurant with great service and reasonable prices.

Take a taxi or metro to Gaudí’s masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia Church.

Evening: enjoy a leisurely paella meal or go tapas-tasting around a few different restaurants.

Day 3:

An interesting look-out stop is the “W” hotel, so bike up to the right side of the hotel and enjoy the awesome water view.

For fun and exercise other than walking, rent a bicycle for two hours. Rental bikes are available at Passeig de Joan de Borbó, down by the Barceloneta metro stop. (Directions: From the metro station, cross the busy street towards the water and continue for about 10 minutes down the street to the rental place. The location is well-situated for a beautiful bike ride along the water to see the port.

Rub elbows with locals at Can Paixano. This place is usually standing room only, so if you don’t like crowds, don’t go here.

You may want to mix in with the locals at a hole in the wall called Can Paixano (Calle de la reina Cristina, 7). You can order a bottle to split between you and a friend and it comes with two tapas. Roset (or pink champagne) is my favorite, along with the croquetas, fried cheese or ham.

From Barceloneta you can take the scenic funicular to Monjuic and spend the day roaming around the Olympic stadium, museum, and castle.

If you want to get out of the city you can take a day trip to the mountaintop monastery of Montserrat or the coastal town of Sitges. Both are great half-day trips, if you have the time. Montserrat has a boys’ choir who perform everyday but Saturday, so try going on a Friday or Sunday to hear them. Montserrat is serene and peaceful and has a farmers market with fresh local produce. Hiking to Montserrat is a full day trip, you can walk from Monistrol de Montserrat (a town below the mountain) up to the monastery and then up to the top of the mountain, at about 1237m above sea level.

Cafes:

Enjoying hot cocoa and churros (the hot cocoa here is like a melted dark chocolate bar so you need something to balance it off.)

Basically every café can be fun and the people-watching can be interesting for visitors to Barcelona. You must at least try café con leche (even if you don’t like coffee) and hot cocoa and churros. You also need to try goffrees (fried waffle-type things with ice cream on top).  Here are a couple of suggestions for cafes:

Outside of Granja M Viader

Café de l’Òpera: This cafe, known for its old world charm, is probably the most famous cafe in Barcelona. It is located on La Ramblas, on the left side of the street if you are walking from Plaça Catalunya towards the water. I highly recommend a visit.

Café Zurich: This cafe has a great location at the corner of Las Ramblas and Plaça Catalunya, with outdoor seating. A must-visit place during good weather, as it is perfect for people watching and for taking in the street scenes. Good for coffee and a snack, not the best place for connoisseurs of fine food.